Brownstein: GOP must embrace broader policy agenda

Story highlights

  • Ron Brownstein is a journalist at The Atlantic
  • Brownstein says the Republican Party risks further alienating potential voters
The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works for David Axelrod.

Chicago (CNN)The Republican Party will not win the presidency unless it embraces a broader policy agenda that resonates beyond the older, predominately white voters that make up a large but shrinking core of the party's base of support, according to one of the leading observers of American politics today.

"I think the message of this [election] is that ... Republicans have to find a way to talk to a changing America," Ron Brownstein, columnist at The Atlantic and longtime political journalist, told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files" podcast, produced by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
Republicans themselves recognized this threat to their future, which is why the party released an "autopsy" of the 2012 presidential campaign that called for immigration reform and an embrace of minority voters, among other things.
    The problem, Brownstein argues, is that Republicans feared that supporting those policies would only have resulted in a more disaffected and potentially mutinous base of voters.
    "Because so many in the party did not want to go down the policy road that that analysis entailed," Brownstein said, "They kind of grabbed onto another theory, which said, 'No, no, no. The problem isn't that we don't get enough minority, or millennial, or socially liberal whites. It's that we don't turn out enough of our culturally conservative base.'"
    Republicans have tested that theory in the candidacy of Donald Trump, whose nationalist and economically populist message has been embraced by blue-collar workers. That support, however, has come at a potentially lethal cost for Trump.
    "[Trump] is now at risk of being the first Republican ever in the history of polling -- going back to 1952 -- to lose most college-educated whites," Brownstein says. "And you'd have to say today that's almost certainly going to happen."
    For all its troubles at the national level, Brownstein contends, the Republican Party still might avoid confronting its core vulnerabilities after November and instead justify a poor electoral performance on a uniquely unsuitable candidate. "One of the problems the Republicans are going to have is that the message of this campaign, if Trump loses, is going to be somewhat confused and obscured by the cascade of personal problems that have beset him."
    Turning to the Democratic side, Brownstein believes its problem is that the party has become so urbanized it is nearly impossible to win the House of Representatives and implement its policy agenda unimpeded.
    "(President Barack Obama) won the hundred biggest counties in America by 12 million combined votes. He lost the other 3,000 by 7 million," Brownstein said. "The way that plays out in the House is that, even before you get to redistricting, as you move outside of the urban areas, Democrats simply can't compete because, in those places there is no work-around, you have to win more blue-collar white voters than they are capable of winning right now."
    To hear the whole conversation with Brownstein, which also covered his experiences working for Ralph Nader in the 1970s and the intersection between Hollywood and Washington, click on To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at